August 15, 2008

BEIJING (AP) -- Close fights and narrow decisions produced a wealth of righteous indignation at Workers' Gymnasium on Friday night, where a Russian world champion and a serious American medal contender both felt profoundly wronged by the subjective calls of the button-pressing men who judge their punches.

Sergey Vodopyanov, the world champion bantamweight, was edged by India's Akhil Kumar on total punches in a fight that ended 9-all. Raynell Williams fell behind early and never caught up to France's Khedafi Djelkhir, while Luis Porozo and Merey Akshalov were the latest supposed victims of the alleged pro-Chinese bias infecting all 34 Olympic judges.

Their opponents understandably felt otherwise. Kumar, who let loose a primal roar after his coach called him a lion, dedicated his stunning victory to India's independence day, while Djelkhir felt his 9-7 win was well-planned revenge for a loss to Williams last year.

Vodopyanov held his head in his hands when his verdict was announced, and he angrily stalked out of the ring after leaving powerhouse Russia with just five fighters left in the games. Williams, the soft-spoken featherweight who seemed to be in prime position for a U.S. medal, was more eloquent in his disappointment with the judges.

"I felt like I was moving great, getting my punches off, but I guess some of the judges thought otherwise," said Williams, whose defeat leaves just four U.S. boxers in the field. "I felt like I was throwing a lot, but I guess they didn't count for a lot."

A few fighters managed to win without leaving it to the judges' thumbs. Ukrainian featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko made another elite amateur boxer look just plain amateurish in a dynamic 13-1 win over Uzbekistan's Bahodirjon Sultonov, while three Cubans kept rolling into the quarterfinals.

But the complaints about judging have essentially scuttled any good feelings about boxing created by the International Boxing Association's (AIBA) 18 months of reform and transparency under a new administration. The same old complaints about judging that have dogged amateur boxing for decades are once again swelling like a black eye.

Either the Olympic tournament and AIBA are spectacularly corrupt and incompetent enterprises bent on embarrassing an apparently random selection of fighters from across the world, or amateur boxing is an inexact science with subjective judging and several possible interpretations of many exchanges.

How a fighter feels about that proposition only seems to depend on whether he won.

"I think it's unfair," said Ecuador's Porozo, who lost 6-5 to China's Li Yang. "I don't agree with the judges, but I have to respect their decision and learn from this."

The star of Beijing after seven days of boxing has been Lomachenko, who began his run Monday with a masterful victory over Russian world champion Albert Selimov.

After taking an 8-0 lead, Lomachenko finished with a flourish, knocking Sultonov onto his back with a perfectly placed left hand with 45 seconds left. Clean knockdowns in amateur boxing are rare, but so is the talent of the Ukrainian who did it.

Lightweight Hu Qing also advanced with an 11-7 win over Kazakhstan's Akshalov, who led 6-4 through two rounds. His possibly curious comeback was a prime topic of conversation for AIBA technical delegate Terry Smith, who claimed he hadn't seen any judging irregularities.

China's surprising team was trimmed to six boxers in the evening session when Moldova's Veaceslav Gojan beat bantamweight Gu Yu.

Vodopyanov's loss in a seesaw bout left Russia, the pre-tournament favorite to win medals in almost every weight class, with just five boxers in the field despite lightweight Alexey Tishchenko's 11-3 win over Australia's Anthony Little. Tishchenko, the featherweight gold medalist in Athens, has been sharp in his move up seven pounds.

The 20-year-old Vodopyanov is seven years younger than two-time Olympian Kumar, whose back-to-back victories are another surprising success for long-struggling India, which won its first gold medal in an individual event Monday with Abhinav Bindra's victory in 10-meter air rifle.

"The comeback is an amazing thing, but he can do anything," Indian coach Gurbaksh Sandhu said. "Only lions can stage such a fight-back."

Djelkhir, who lost handily to Williams at last year's world championships, constantly pressured the slim American, keeping Williams on his back heel for three rounds. Williams still felt he counterpunched well enough to win, and U.S. coach Dan Campbell abandoned his temperance about the judging, referring to the result with an expletive.

"He's a young boxer, and he had surprised me in Chicago (at the world championships) because I didn't know him," Djelkhir said. "That left a bitter taste. I even still remember the score. This time the plan was to make him doubt straightaway, because he's not the kind of boxer who can come back if he's trailing on the scoreboard."

Cuba kept nine boxers in the tournament with wins by lightweight Yordenis Ugas, bantamweight Yankiel Leon and featherweight Idel Torriente, who came from behind in the fourth round to beat Mongolia's Enkhzorig Zorigtbaatar 10-9.

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